CAIRO – An online photograph showing a policeman wearing lipstick and hijab is sparking fury in mid-western US state of Minnesota over mocking at the culture of the Muslim community.
“I was literally sick to my stomach,” Ramla Bile, a Muslim woman in Minneapolis, told Star Tribune.“My identity is not a costume, and it's not OK for cultures to be turned into caricatures.”
The controversy began with a tweet by Mukhtar Ibrahim, a journalist based in Washington, DC, asking about the photo on the St. Paul Police account.
"Can u pls verify if this man mocking Somali women employees at Target is one of your officers?" Ibrahim, who used to live in St. Paul, said.
The photo showed a white male police officer wearing a Target name tag with a Somali name.
He also has a large cellphone wedged between the side of his face and the hijab, a practice that is common among many working women.
Ibrahim received a reply from the St. Paul police on Monday, saying "SPPD wants to thx u for bring this to our att. We take this seriously& are investigating."
Police spokesman Howie Padilla confirmed that an officer is depicted in the picture, but could not release his identity.
"The St. Paul Police Department has worked hard to establish a strong and respectful relationship with our Muslim communities, and I will not allow these types of images to erode that relationship," Smith said in a written statement.
"Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the city of St. Paul, and we expect each one of our officers to respect and take pride in serving each of our diverse communities.
Mayor Chris Coleman also said he will follow up investigations into the issue.
"The city and the mayor's office take this very seriously, and the mayor will personally monitor it very closely," his spokesman Joe Campbell said.
Target Corp. spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the officer in the photo has occasionally provided off-duty security at a local Target store.
"As a company who stands firmly for inclusivity and diversity, we were appalled by this photo and do not tolerate or condone discrimination or harassment of any sort," Snyder said in a written statement.
"We are conducting a full investigation and talking to and supporting all of our St. Paul team members."
DegradingMuslim residents have called for swift disciplinary actions and cultural sensitivity training for the officers involved.
"We don't see too many of these kinds of cases and it's not the biggest one we've seen," said Lori Saroya, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Minnesota chapter.
Saroya said the Muslim community in Minnesota has always enjoyed good relationships with the St. Paul and Minneapolis police department.
Yet, if the photo does show a St. Paul police officer, she thinks that individual needs more diversity training to "help eliminate anti-Muslim stereotypes and prejudice."
"It seems like a silly, unprofessional incident that happened. We're confident the St. Paul police department will handle it appropriately,” she said.
“I don't think he did it to be offensive or mean-spirited. It just seems to be ignorance."
People responded to the photo on Twitter, some using the hashtag #CultureNOTCostume.
"It is never funny, nor appropriate to mock someone's cultural identity," a comment said.
Among the comments, "Protect and serve does not translate into mock and degrade."
"This behavior is counter-intuitive to positive community policing efforts. We need accountability."
Ilhan Omar, of Minneapolis, said she was appalled when she saw the photo on Twitter.
"It's degrading - this is what we consider part of our religion, part of our faith, and part of our tradition,” the 30-year-old Minneapolis woman, who wears a hijab, told The St. Paul Pioneer Press."For us it's not a costume, it's our daily life.”
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